Empowering Children & Youth Through Arts Education


Empowering Children & Youth Through Arts Education

President Obama once said, "In addition to giving our children the science and math skills they need to compete in the new global context, we should also encourage the ability to think creatively that comes from a meaningful arts education.” Given the complexities of young people’s lives today, we know that access to arts education has the capacity to do even more. Arts organizations whose work is centered on the well-being of youth, are able to boost learning outcomes, cultivate social-emotional skills, and provide pathways for success to meet new possibilities and shape their futures.

Earlier this year, researchers at the University of California, Irvine released a report funded by The Wallace Foundation that shared a framework to build connections between arts education and a full range of outcomes for young people and communities beyond the academic including civic, occupational, cultural, and social. The research asks: What if learning about or practicing an art could help young people connect more directly to their communities and the world they live in? How might that change the experience and outcomes for both students and communities? The investigators highlight the potential of arts education to help young people build connections with their culture, identity, home lives, and communities, as well as professional artists and future aspirations.



Much of what the research is highlighting has been successfully implemented in programs like the Philadelphia School District’s Summer Drumline program offered in partnership with Musicopia, a William Penn Foundation grantee. The program, which launched in summer 2023, provided students with five weeks of free percussion education and other music fundamentals. This program invited young musicians to spend their summers with teaching artists learning familiar hits by Michael Jackson and the Wu-Tang Clan, earning a stipend, and gaining exposure to potential career paths in the arts and skills they can carry to college and beyond.

Positive outcomes that stem from arts learning—such as fostering creativity and imagination, problem-solving, developing art-making skills, bolstering social-emotional skills (e.g., collaboration, growth mindset), expanding interest in the arts, and growing perspectives of culture and identity—are important scaffolds for children and youth to build upon into adulthood. Based on experience from our own grantmaking and the research funded by the Wallace Foundation, formal and informal opportunities to learn through quality programs can take place in classrooms, arts and community centers, and in neighborhoods across the city, connecting youth to mentors, career paths, internship possibilities, and creative collaborations with peers. Young people find their voices as they engage with each other, diverse types of art/artists, and connect to their communities and the world around them.

Big Picture Alliance’s (BPA) Youth Filmmaking after-school and summer programs are another example of the connections that arts education can make for youth to explore new cultures and the world around them. By bringing filmmaking to young people across Philadelphia and teaching digital storytelling skills, students gain the tools, skills, and agency to tell their own stories. Working with youth in communities that lack access to digital media education, Big Picture Alliance’s Youth Filmmaking programs offer youth-led, hands-on, project-based digital media learning that reflects students’ own cultural and racial identities and prioritizes youth perspectives. In addition to the work they do in communities, BPA recently opened “GroundFloor Studios” in Center City, a youth-centered digital media hub equipped with a media lab, production studio, and screening space that will serve as a workforce incubator for youth media-makers to gain experience, receive mentorship, and collaborate. GroundFloor was developed in partnership with ChatterBlast Media, one of BPA's many industry partners across Philadelphia providing paid apprenticeships and career pathways for BPA youth & alumni.



Ultimately, every child deserves to have access to the rich possibilities of arts education. Removing barriers (e.g., cost, exclusion, marginalization) can make this possible for many more youth. Through the Foundation’s Arts Education grant making, we hope to remove barriers, increase access, and make it possible for youth to engage as leaders and drivers of their own arts learning experiences.

To learn more about our Arts Education eligibility and funding criteria, please visit the Creative Communities How to Apply webpage.

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